What Do Students Want?

By Terry Strathman
April 15, 2002

A lively discussion of the undergraduate experience was the result as students took the podium at the L&S Colloquium on Undergraduate Education. Dean Kwong-loi Shun invited four undergraduates to the February 26, 2002 colloquium and asked them to address questions about their experience at Berkeley.

Research was the key experience for Guido Schauer, a summer 2001 graduate in Molecular and Bell Biology and Psychology. A "clueless" transfer student, Schauer didn't realize that he could do research outside of his major until a faculty member clued him in. His experience left Schauer adamant that every undergraduate should have an opportunity for research. In the classroom there is not always time to question or challenge—to understand how "the facts" came to be. Research allows students to develop reasoning and analytical thinking. Schauer proposed a new course on "the elements of research" where students would learn about methodology, data collection and analysis, epistemology and ethics. A good student of psychology, Schauer also referred to "academic momentum" as critical to undergraduate success. "That first A+ really gets the ball rolling!"

After much rational calculation about the "right major," Ashiana Esmail found that her decision to major in Ethnic Studies was a "decision of the heart and soul"—she had to follow her interests. Esmail found interaction with faculty easy in Ethnic Studies, a smaller and more intimate department. Indeed, having faculty who knew her and were her advocates on campus was "better than an A+" in helping to build academic momentum toward success. She called the new Sophomore Seminars "a huge step" towards expanding meaningful interaction with faculty.

Joseph Lai, who is headed to Oxford after he graduates from Berkeley, began his discussion of his advising experience by admitting that he had never been in to see a college advisor. Yet Lai's experience showed that there are many modes of advising. Even though he hadn't been in to see an advisor, he had a dog-eared copy of "Earning Your Degree" and had used the College's e-mail advising service, as well the web site and the new DARS system that provides an automated degree audit.

Rachel Casamina, a second year student, spoke to the importance of peer advising. As a Regent's scholar she was paired with an older student who helped her with the big picture. Lower division students can be overwhelmed as they keep in mind "the checklist" of requirements at the same time that they are trying to explore their interests and make career and life decisions. She urged more coordination in campus advising so that, for example, students caught between colleges can get useful advising.

The students agreed that an ongoing orientation and more integrated advising would be useful, and that research, which promotes critical reasoning and makes for more meaningful interaction with faculty, is always a highly desirable addition to the College experience.

The L & S colloquia, which take place once or twice each semester, provide opportunities to learn about and discuss the overarching issues affecting undergraduate education at U C Berkeley. For more information on upcoming or past programs, contact Alix Schwartz at alix@uclink4.berkeley.edu or (510) 642-8378.

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